White House ramps up availability of COVID-19 tests

Oct. 7, 2021

The White House plans to spend $1 billion to buy 180 million at-home COVID-19 tests over the next year — a key element in the administration’s plan to ramp up availability and access to various types of coronavirus tests. The plan was announced Wednesday, October 6, at a White House briefing.

This action followed the government’s plan, which was announced in September, to pledge $2 billion to boost production of rapid point-of-care and at-home tests, using the authority granted to it through the Defense Production Act. This action “allows the manufacturers to have the confidence in the demand to scale up their production,” Jeff Zients, White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator, said at the press briefing Wednesday. “It’s an expansion of the industrial base so that more manufacturing occurs based on the U.S.’s commitment to the testing — to the testing sector.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) decision this week to grant emergency use authorization (EUA) to an at-home test from ACON Laboratories further accelerates access to at-home tests, Zients added. The ACON test is notable because it does not require serial testing — or testing the same individual more than once within a few days. He said the test should sell for about $10 each.

When all of these actions are added together, “we’ll have available supply of 200 million rapid, at-home tests per month starting in December, with supply of tens of millions of additional tests coming on the market across the next few weeks,” he said.

In response to the government’s support of testing, it received commitments from Quidel and OraSure “to expand manufacturing and to speed up their production of rapid tests, taking months off their timelines and adding tens of millions of tests per month to their production capacity,” Zients said.

However, he declined to disclose which manufacturers specifically are involved in the plan to purchase 180 million tests for $1 billion.

Zients said the U.S. government plans to distribute the at-home tests that it purchases to community health centers, food pantries, and other locations across the country. However, the expanded production on the part of manufacturers also will lead to increased availability of tests that consumers and employers can purchase.

The administration is not only focused on at-home tests but also free antigen and PCR tests available at pharmacies. Zients said the government has expanded the number of participating retail locations from 10,000 to 20,000. Free tests also are available at 10,000 additional community sites across the country.

By December, U.S. manufacturing capacity will approach a production rate of about a half billion tests per month, about half of which will be at-home tests, Zients predicted.

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